Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sharing my data - Sometimes things work out perfectly.

Some of you have big goals in the early season. For you, I may prescribe two workouts for each day of the weekend. One is longer and to be done outside. Another, I refer to as a "Trainer Alternate" workout to ensure you have something to do indoors if the winter weather is nasty. There may be blowing snow outside. That doesn't mean you can take the day off. Each weekend can be critical for someone whose goals are rapidly approaching.

I've been feeling good lately. Last Friday, we had some excellent weather. I decided to combine my two workouts and really maximize my time. On my calendar, I had a 3-hour Endurance ride with a long Tempo interval. My Alternate workout called for a series of sprint efforts followed by 5 VO2 Max intervals. Oh this is going to be a tough ride.  Ride Data 

I did a familiar loop from my house. After warming up, I started with the Sprint efforts. You can see the spikes in the graph. The rest intervals vary as I deal with conditions out on the road. I can't start a 30-sec sprint when I'm only 10 seconds from a stop sign or traffic light. I get all of those efforts done. Actually, I think I did extra as I lost count.

After crossing a highway, I know I have a long distance with fewer interruptions. That is where I begin a 50-min Tempo interval. My route is undulating and I will encounter an occasional stop sign or signal. I intentionally keep my power at the high end of the prescribed range. This allows me to deal with some uncertainty and remain within my target zone. I had to stop momentarily for a light and a pothole crew.

Near the end of that interval, I changed course in order to avoid crossing a busy intersection before the interval ended. I just delayed my arrival to the intersection until the Tempo interval was complete. You can see around mile 30 that I made an otherwise unnecessary series of turns. I rode easy through Princeton. Far too many cars and stops to do any structured intervals there.

I cross Rt 1 again towards home and begin the VO2 Max intervals. 5x5min at 106%-120%. OUCH!!! Again, I altered the recovery time to ensure I could complete each interval without interruption. I nailed all of those intervals and left myself a short recovery spin before home.

Some of you are forced to do your intervals going back and forth on the same stretch of road. I know that is less than entertaining. I do it too. This is why I've shared numerous workouts that I've done on the towpath. I need to minimize the distractions and will sacrifice some scenery or entertainment to ensure I can get my workouts done correctly.

This workout is about as perfect as I could hope for out on the open road. I choose my roads carefully. An entertaining and bike friendly route with minimal distraction. That is not easy to accomplish. I plan the start of my intervals so I can complete each one properly. In our densely populated areas, this takes some significant knowledge and planning. Occasionally, things work out perfectly and you have one of those breakthrough days. This workout was one of them.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sharing my data - Climbing Sweet Spot Intervals

I've been progressing with ever-longer Sweet-Spot intervals. They are really great for building your engine, raising FTP, and teaching focus and pacing. As I build for an April series of events, I dedicate about two days per week to Sweet Spot Training. When appropriate, I increase the number of intervals and the length of each. Slow and steady progression to create a solid and lasting fitness improvement.

I am getting ready to move on but still have a few twists to make these intervals beneficial and entertaining. This week's twist was Climbing Sweet Spot intervals. I combine my beloved seated climbing with the torture of ultra-long sweet spot intervals. To do this, I find a 20-minute climb, stay seated and grind it out. Wait!?! Did I just say "20-minute climb". We are not in the Rockies. How is that possible?

People repeatedly explain to me that they can't improve their climbing ability because there are no climbs in the area where they train. I do my best to keep from rolling my eyes. That is an excuse and I'm all about removing excuses. How do we work on climbing without mountains?

Strangely, the same people that complain about hills also complain about the wind. Climbs and wind are all about overcoming resistance. Want to know what it feels like to climb Rocky Mountain passes? Find a long wide road that points into the wind. Crosswinds are nearly as bad as headwinds so the road doesn't have to be in the direction of the wind. Wide open areas and wind will increase the resistance significantly.

This time I will share a workout I did to simulate climbing big mountains. Ride Data Once again, I got on the D&R Canal towpath. Starting just north of Trenton this time, I pointed myself north into a headwind. To increase resistance further, there were two inches of snow and I was on my cyclocross bike with cross tires. Think sluggish and heavy. A road ride was not possible on this day but I improvised.

My workout called for 2.5 hours of riding including three 20-minute sweet spot intervals. To simulate climbing, maintain a lower than normal cadence of 75-85rpm during intervals. I started with a typical warm up of 20 minutes. Then I began the first SST interval.

I struggled a bit to find a rhythm during the first interval. I may not have been warmed up thoroughly. My intended target was 89-92% of my Function Threshold Power (FTP). I was far below at first and began to bring it up towards the end. My average in this first interval fell just short at 87% FTP. I was a little annoyed and determined to hit my targets. The next two SST intervals were 91% and 93% respectively.

Many of you are doing SST intervals regularly now. Some are doing 3x12min while others have worked up to 2x18min. I have never asked a client to do more than 2x20min and they often give me an excuse instead of a result. 3x20min at low cadence are truly grueling intervals. I was fried. I spent the final hour of the ride asking myself why I rode so far before turning around. I just stared at my handlebars waiting for it to end. At one point, I was passed by an older fellow on a MTB. Thankfully, I don't have a delicate ego.

These workouts pay huge dividends later. Obviously they prepare us for climbing and headwinds. Consider that you have similar demands when forced to chase down a dangerous break during a road race, trudging through mud in a CX race, trying to maintain your position towards the end of a MTB race, or just trying to finish the last 20 miles of that century ride. We have to just dig deep and suck it up.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sharing my data - Winter Weather

Our winter climate provides many unique challenges for athletes. Darkness, cold temps, and various forms of precipitation force us to dig deep in order to stay on track with our training. None of us started riding because we enjoyed the Great INDOORS.

Darkness forces many of us to endure our workouts indoors on the trainer or rollers. Some take it to the gym for added entertainment and motivation. Others purchase lights to see and be seen in order to continue riding outside.

The cold winter temperatures require an entirely new wardrobe. That can get very costly. I find that a temperature change of just 5 degrees calls for different clothing choices. We may get lucky and find garments that are useful for varied temps but that is not always the case. Of course, we can't figure that out until we make a purchase and do some trial and error. I have given away a lot of clothes over the years.

In recent years, I have found chemical hand warmers to be a godsend. Thick gloves makes using shifters and brake levers difficult or awkward. Sometime dangerous for those with smaller hands. Hand warmers allow us to wear lighter gloves and still feel our fingers. After rejecting them as a waste of money, I found them to be much more cost effective when compared to buying extra gloves that are only useful in specific temperature ranges.

One of our biggest challenges is what falls from the sky and what it does to our roads and trails. You saved up for that boutique road bike and then destroy it on wet, salty roads. After even a marginal snowfall, MTB trails can be unsuitable to ride for weeks. Having bikes for multiple disciplines provides a huge advantage. I won't get too involved but just mention that a cyclocross bike is your best friend in the winter. While being great at nothing, a CX bike can do most things well enough for training. If nothing else, it is versatile.

The change of seasons brings on a change in training behavior that many athletes struggle with. I am one of those people who struggle. I'll do almost anything to get outside and ride. Yes, I've ridden the trainer with a few of you. If left to ride alone, I do it outside. Over the years, I have acquired the clothing, equipment, and knowledge to get out in most conditions. Unfortunately, it does take years to figure out how to deal with winter.

As another wintery mix approaches for this weekend, I want to share my data from last weekend. Our area got snow amounts of a couple inches to a foot or more.

I had 3-4 inches in my area. I call that perfect. That amount allows me to "enjoy" the snow. I waited just long enough for roads and parking lots to be plowed. While the Parks Department will take time to clear snow from lots, the retailers get themselves open for business quickly. I drove to a retail parking lot near an entrance to the D&R Canal.

From there, I rode the canal towpath on my CX bike. Here is my ride data. The snow was light and my tires carved through it nicely. The added resistance was obvious but I was able to ride. I spent nearly the entire time on the towpath in my easiest gear. I was in my Tempo training zone so I was getting an honest workout without having to kill myself.

Instead of just turning around, I got off the towpath and rode to my favorite bike shop, Halter's. I hung out for a few minutes, ate a Clif Bar and refilled a bottle. Then headed back. The later portion of the towpath was a beast. Wind blowing off of an adjacent lake and footprints in the snow made it difficult. Instead of repeating that, I rode through Princeton and got some climbing done.

Eventually, I got back on the towpath and decided to drill it for the remainder of the ride. No specific wattage or zone in mind. Just pace myself and steadily increase the output until I was close enough to the car to start my cool-down. It worked out nicely.

So as the winter weather continues, consider thinking outside of the box in order to stay on track with training. There may be days when it simply is not possible to get outside. Those days are few and far between. I give you endless challenges to overcome in your workouts. Mother Nature sometimes throws in a few of her own. In the end, you get stronger and more ready for battle in the Spring and Summer.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sharing my data - VO2 Max intervals

Each of you have received an email from me explaining each of the training zones with a brief description of each. I send that out whenever I update your training zones. Today, I will focus on Zone 5-VO2 Max.

By definition, VO2 Max is the MAXimum volume (V) of oxygen (O2) that your body is able to utilize during one minute of exercise. An athlete's VO2 Max has long been considered to be the best indicator of cardiovascular endurance and aerobic fitness. Testing for VO2 Max is primarily reserved only for elite athletes as it requires a laboratory environment.

Cyclist rank pretty high among the fittest athletes in endurance sport. There is room for debate but only rowing and XC skiing are more demanding. That is because rowing and skiing add the use of the upper body in addition to the legs. Therefore, more muscles are demanding oxygen and driving even higher fitness levels. Yeah, we can pump the bike with our arms but it is not nearly as demanding as pulling an oar or driving a ski pole to produce forward motion.

Training in the VO2 Max zone produces numerous important physiological changes at a greater rate than training in other intensity zones. Specifically, training at Zone 5-VO2 Max increases our blood plasma level. The body increases blood volume in order to transport oxygen to the working muscles. Slow twitch muscles, or muscles most used for endurance, get stronger at a faster rate. Another huge benefit is that the heart increases its stroke volume, pumping more blood with each beat. Finally, muscles add capillaries to increase the transfer of oxygen.

In order to improve our VO2 fitness, we have to push ourselves well beyond the intensity we usually ride. When just out on a ride, we may only be in our VO2 Max training zone when climbing. At any other time, we'd have to initiate a pretty serious effort to get in that training zone. Efforts in the Vo2 Max zone are understood to last up to 8 minutes. Beyond that and often before, you will begin to slow down whether to like it or not. Dropping down into Zone 4-Threshold.

In this installment of Sharing My Data, I have a VO2 Max Workout that I did a few weeks ago. I started in Lambertville, NJ and targeted the roads headed up and out of the Delaware River valley. I didn't have an exact route in mind. Just a couple climbs I thought would be adequate. I wanted a climb with a shallow grade that took 5 minutes to complete. It would be fine if the climb was longer. I would just turn around and return to the beginning. Hill Repeats baby!!!

I started the workout with some sprinting efforts, Big Gear Wind-Ups. These sprints are done in nearly the biggest gear from a track-stand or crawling start. The task is to increase cadence and speed as quickly as possible. This is actually a Zone 6 and 7 effort (I'll save that for another time). At a slow start, these really stress the muscles promoting strength and muscle recruitment. Your body twists like a worm as you give it everything you have. Stopping when you reach 90 RPM or fatigue to the point that you are no longer accelerating.

Then I went to seek out a good VO2 Max climbing. I started my first VO2 Max interval on a great stretch of road. Unfortunately, I learned that it was too short. I crested the top at 3 minutes and killed myself to keep my power up until I reached a red light at 4 minutes. "Nope! Too short for this workout. Gotta find another climb."

I had another in mind although it was not ideal. A busy county road with little shoulder. Not great when you have to turn around and repeat it a few times. I got to the base of that climb and continued my workout.

Although I did not love the road, it turned out to be absolutely perfect for my intervals. Just enough grade to stimulate the correct intensity. The climb began to flatten just as I reach the five-minute point. I would do the remaining intervals here.

I still had one last challenge. My relatively new crank-based power meter does some type of calibrate function if I back-pedal continuously. For years, I would back-pedal between hill repeats in order to keep the blood flowing and recover. It has just become habit. One that I often tell my clients to do. I may have to change that behavior.

As I began the last interval, my power was notably down. Enough that I knew something was wrong with the meter. I did not hesitate. I just pushed on. By this time I knew exactly what to expect and just kept going. I would continue based on my perceived exertion. If you look at the data graph, you can see my heart rate, speed, distance, etc. were identical to the previous intervals.

To wrap this email up, always remember to read your workout descriptions well in advance. It may require some local knowledge to come up with the correct roads or route in your area. Some are flat, others hilly. Create various routes in your area to accommodate the demands of your workouts.

In this workout, I was multitasking as I started with the sprint efforts. Always look for ways to incorporate more into a workout. There are days when we want to just ride around and build endurance. Always consider getting more from your training time. These sprint efforts are preparing me for more demanding efforts to come in the future. They also create fatigue. That makes the later VO2 Max intervals more demanding although not hindering my ability to do them properly. When time allows, throw in a little something from another workout. I don't mind overachievers. If unsure, reach out to me for help.

Don't hesitate to improvise during your workouts. I thought that first climb would be perfect and I was wrong. I was forced to cut my first interval short by one minute. That would have to do for the first interval but I was not satisfied. Plan B was 25 minutes away but I decided the intervals were too important to skimp. At the end of my workout, I had overcome unexpected challenges. I was cooked and ready to go home. That is a satisfying feeling.

Thanks for your attention.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sharing my data - The Distraction...

Eventually it happens. You could be training great for weeks or months. Everything is clicking. Progress is noticeable. You are on track to reach your goals.

Any number of things will derail your training plan. Family obligations, work, weather, vacation, illness, injury are all common. In this installment of Sharing My Data, I will explain how we will ALL eventually have to deal with something beyond our control. It even happens to me.

I had a great January. Workouts were lined up and completed in stride. I went into a rest week pretty gassed and looking forward to some recovery. I was looking ahead and readying myself for the next segment of hard work.

Then it appeared, the scratchy throat and congestion. Oh Boy! All too common for me as the temperatures fluctuate wildly. We go from 30F to 60F and right back down. Throw in a couple rides in mixed precip. and I was ripe for a cold. Of course it begins towards the end of the rest week.

I stocked up on the DayQuill/NyQuill combo and supplemented with endless Vit C. tablets and drops. I even made some crazy concoction that my wife tried a few weeks earlier. It was so gross I don't want to describe it.

I exited the rest week with some uncertainty. Not a full-blown cold but certain reason for concern. I looked ahead at my workouts and did the shorter ones to avoid taxing my immune system. I also had plans to go to Louisville to spectate CX Worlds the following weekend.

I go away for the weekend thinking I've got the illness under control. Then I spend four days off the bike with no exercise. Too many distractions in an unfamiliar city. I was more interested in immersing myself in the CX celebration taking place in Louisville. It was pretty awesome and I had a blast.

I got back on the bike this past Tuesday and my legs gave me a big FU. Still feeling all the walking, standing, and drinking. Yeah! You read that right. Drinking. That ride would be no more than an endurance ride. I felt better as the ride progressed but there wasn't much in the tank.

My rest week turned into two weeks due to illness and travel. When all done, I felt flat. I'm feeling better now and nailed today's workout. I'll be sharing that soon. Hopefully everything is back on track. Just in time for a winter storm this weekend.

To close this out, I'll remind everyone that we deal with numerous obstacles. It is important to minimize the impact and get back on track. Improvise, adapt, and overcome. Our training plans are flexible and ever-changing. The next time you are faced with a new challenge to your training routine, reach out to me for guidance. I'll do what I can to get you back on track.